Zamalek FC’s hardcore fans: The journey of the Ultras White Knights

It has been 10 years since the Ultras White Knights (UWK), an association of hardcore fans of Zamalek Football Club, was founded. Though they are of varying ages and come from different social classes and education, they are united in their unwavering support for their team.

The UWK have remained committed, despite the team’s financial and administrative problems over the last decade, proving their loyalty to the white-flagged club time and time again, even in defeat.

They have been determined to attend matches in large numbers and well-organized formations, even at training sessions. This support is summed up in their renowned slogan, “We will remain loyal.”

The bond that binds them runs deeper than a love for football. The UWK are also known for the role they played in Egypt’s January 2011 revolution, when they were a key part of confrontations with police, marches and sit-ins, with their well rehearsed chants and songs. Their participation on the front lines of clashes with security forces on the Friday of Rage (January 28, 2011) and in the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud (November 2011) is particularly remembered.

Since then, there has been a level of mutual hostility between the ultras and Egypt’s security forces. This has been exacerbated by several events, including the deaths of 72 Ultras Ahlawy, fans of Ahly Football Club, in the northern Suez canal city of Port Said on February 1, 2012, during a deadly stadium riot that many say was prolonged or even sparked by security forces, and resulted in the suspension of football matches or matches with no spectators.

After matches resumed and fans were permitted to attend games again, another bloody incident took place at Cairo’s Air Force Defense Stadium on February 8, 2015, when 20 Zamalek Football Club fans were killed. Security officials accused the UWK of being responsible for these deaths and arrested several members.

In fact, over the past six years, security forces have imprisoned around 250 ultras, and in May 2015, ultras organizations were banned by the state.

Egyptian media has also portrayed ultras associations in a negative light, disseminating false information on them and capitalizing on their insistence to not give media interviews.

“Ultra” in Latin means over and above, and members describe themselves as being “brothers in blood.”

The ultras commemorate members who have been imprisoned or killed over the years, immortalizing them in pictures, chants and songs. The UWK have released three albums of these songs to commemorate their martyrs: “Zamalek is the Life,” “Voice of the Knights” and “February 8.”

Translated by Jano Charbel

Mother and younger brother of UWK member Amr Hussein outside their home in Warraq, Giza. Hussein was killed on September 19 during a protest dubbed “The Revolution of Zamalek Fans,” staged by fans associated with the club’s former president, Mamdouh Abbas.
Ultras wear matching clothes with the club’s flag and colors.
Ultras prepare their repertoires and chants. Security personnel photograph the ultras and monitor their numbers under the pretext of securing stadiums.
Ultras color coordinate their banners and placards. Over the last three years, police have frequently banned ultras from bringing such props into stadiums.
More than 50 UWK traveled to Tunisia in August 2015 for the match between Zamalek and Tunisian club Sportif Sfaxien, their first stadium appearance since the deaths at Cairo’s Air Defense Stadium. They held posters of the 20 fans who died, and denounced club President Mortada Mansour, despite Tunisian authorities attempting to confiscate their banners.
UWK also support other teams, such as Zamalek’s Junior Volleyball Team. They are singing, “Scream of the 20,” about the 20 fans who died at Cairo’s Air Force Defense Stadium.
UWK return to their seats on the right-hand side of the stadium (Talta Yemeen in Arabic) for the first time since the deadly Port Said stadium violence, for a game against Niger’s AS Douanes Club in the African Champions League.
Ultras sing on the streets or on public transport, not just in stadiums.
The annual derby between Ahly and Zamalek is usually a special opportunity for ultras to rally together at stadiums. Here, two UWK fans watch the last derby match from home days after they were released from police custody following protests at the Zamalek Club’s headquarters.
UWK fans at the Petrosport Stadium chanting one of their songs during a match between Zamalek and Mouloudia Olympique Béjaïa in the African Champions League, April 9, 2016. This was the first public appearance of the UWK in Cairo after the Air Force Defense Stadium violence.
Regular Zamalek Club fans — who are not UWK members — light a flare to celebrate Zamalek's victory in the 2015 league. The influence of the UWK was felt despite their absence at the game, which took place three months after the Air Force Defense Stadium deaths.
After years of being banned from matches, it was announced that fans and spectators would be allowed to attend the Zamalek vs. Enppi game at Cairo’s Air Force Defense Stadium on February 8, 2015. Crowds were forced to pass through a narrow metal cage to enter the stadium. After hours of waiting, police fired teargas into the crowds, resulting in a stampede and the deaths of 20 fans.
On hearing of the deaths at Cairo’s Air Force Defense Stadium, UWK and Zamalek Club fans called on players to withdraw from the game, which they refused to do.
The mother of a Zamalek Club fan who died outside Cairo’s Air Force Defense Stadium lights a flare during a commemoration service on the first anniversary of the violence, organized by the UWK at Cairo’s Fustat Park.
UWK founder Sayed “Mushagheb” stands trial for an alleged assassination attempt on club President Mortada Mansour, and for storming the club and staging protests. He was acquitted of the assassination attempt, but sentenced to one year in prison for storming the club.More than 200 UWK have been jailed or imprisoned over the past three years. The charges against them have been largely filed by Mortada Mansour or security forces. Many have been released, but prominent fans, including: Sayed “Mushagheb,” Mostafa “Tabla,” Fahad Nagah “Saiytarra,” Yasser Sayed “Pogo,” Mahmoud Bassiouny, Mostafa al-Daly, Ayman Bala and Mohamed Hamdy “Gazara,” remain behind bars.
Friends of 19-year-old UWK member Abdel Rahman Emad, who died at Cairo’s Air Force Defense Stadium, paint his image on his tomb 40 days after his death.
Ultras visit the home of fallen fan Amr Hussein. Hussein had written, “Oh white t-shirt of life,” shortly before his death. These words were adapted into lyrics for an ultras song commemorating his life and death.
Match between Zamalek and Nigeria’s Enugu Rangers in the African Champions League at Cairo’s Salam stadium, March 12, days before the 10th anniversary of the UWK’s founding.
Ahmed Abdel Gawad 
More from Panorama